Extreme January heat

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology have a report release on the 7th of Jan, Extreme January heat – a title that is self explanatory. Some note worthy points;

“Large parts of central and southern Australia are currently under the influence of a persistent and widespread heatwave event. This event is ongoing with further significant records likely to be set.”

“For September to December (i.e. the last four months of 2012) the average Australian maximum temperature was the highest on record with a national anomaly of +1.61°C, slightly ahead of the previous record of 1.60°C set in 2002 (national records go back to 1910).”

“Hobart experienced a minimum temperature of 23.4°C on the 4th (its hottest January night on record), followed by a maximum of 41.8°C (its hottest maximum temperature on record for any month in 130 years of records) and the highest temperature observed anywhere in southern Tasmania.”

The report ends with this figure;

temp anom

Ouch… So much for the Moncktonian 15yrs of cooling, hey?

Does anyone remember by images of the flooding Murray River?

March 2011

Can we please start addressing our blind and immoral activities in geo-engineering seriously get on with cleaning up our mess? I for one don’t want the recent years to be the normality my children will only ever know. It’s unlikely they will now know of anything different, but we still can change the world for their children and can choose how our generations are remembered.

Change doesn’t often come from leaders, too absorbed with their image upon the world, but rather from the masses who wake up and realise that enough truly is enough and take a stand for something better.

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Uganda Taking on the Cheesy 80’s flick: How Climate Change is the Lesser Evil

BBC have recently reported a project gearing up to acquire oil from reserves recently discovered in Uganda. This project will come at the expense local farmers. In a lot of ways, it screams cliché – like some 80’s fat cat and the underdog.

The worst of which being the profiteers undertaking surveying to establish “suitable” compensation, which the landholders contest have undercut them. Smiling, the profiteers invite the landholders to get an independent survey carried out which, of course, they cannot afford.

But, in reality, how much will be enough to compensate land lost? One of the locals put it this way:

“Land is not like bananas which you buy from the supermarket. It’s something very important in this world.”

Indeed, can any amount compensate the future potential farmers lost to this short term project? Not only this, how about the potential shifts to the hydrological cycle that very likely will occur with increasing climate change – assisted by the additional emissions resulting from this endeavour? The ongoing costs will surely, eventually amount to far more than any potential profits gained.

The next level of doublethink results from the notion of job growth… Now, who are going to get the jobs? The ex-farmers seem the most obvious recently unemployed in need of a job. It’s not really job growth, but really job conversion. The sad fact is that it’s conversion from indefinite resource creation (arguably very egalitarian  to a short term (myopic – think climate change) resource extraction for unequal profit (favouring stake/share holders).

This is very much a cliché. There is nothing new or unique going on in Uganda. This is the same story happening elsewhere – even in the Kimberley in far north west Australia… Climate change is truly one of the smaller reasons why we need to get a grip of our fossil fuel addiction.

Who’s Tackling Climate Change?

The Climate Institute have just released an interactive map to look at and compare the actions different countries are currently undertaking to tackle climate change. It’s a nice project and both interesting and of value. I suggest checking it out!

(click the image to visit the Climate Institute’s interactive map)

Donna Laframboise: How to Avoid the Argument

It’s been a while, so I figured I’d see how the charming Donna Laframboise has been going of late. To my surprise, she had recently made it downunder to market her new book. She has a video up of her presentation to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), an organisation described by McKewon (2012) as a “neoliberal think tank and high-profile news source that rejects the evidence of anthropogenic climate change and opposes mitigation strategies such as an ETS”. In the same article, McKewon (2012) defines neoliberal think tanks as “keeping with the interests of the economic elites who fund them, neoliberal think tanks promote core values of the political Right – free market capitalism, anti-socialism, privatisation, small government and deregulation…”

You get the picture. With the wonderful work the IPA did for Plimer’s 2009 book, Heaven and Earth: global warming – the missing science (McKewon 2012), Laframboise rightly should have been appreciative of their interest in her book.

You must watch the presentation;

It seems the book took a different turn than what I had been expecting from her hype in the lead up. I was hoping for more of a religious zeal to be waxed over the IPCC and any individual who comes to the same conclusions. I was disappointed by the mundane summary provided.

To summarise what I took aware from the presentation above;

    1. Most professional bodies speak highly of the professionalism of the IPCC authorship
    2. Authors didn’t turn out to be the cream of the crop in the field of their chapter
    3. Indeed some authors seemed to have been selected for political grounds rather than due to science background
    4. Professional activists co-authored the IPCC reports (some of which are associated with rich green activist groups)
    5. The World Wild Fund for nature recruited many of these authors for its own panel on climate change
    6. The WWF “has an interest in affecting the very questions [the IPCC] were supposed to be examining”.
    7. Thus authors throughout the chapters were affiliated with the WWF.
    8. The IPCC has no consequences for disobeying governing regulations/rules; “It’s like putting up a speed limit. But if there’s no police officers enforcing that speed limit, what do you suppose is going to happen?”
    9. All of the above taken into account and that no scientist has public stated the above is contrary to what the IPCC has said about itself – what else has the public been misled about?
    10. Thus, the IPCC isn’t trustworthy or reliable and we need our heads examined if we are to trust its opinion on something as complicated as climate change.

Please point out if I’ve missed something.

Now, the questions that continued to repeat within me were as I watched the presentation were; what has this got to the material that was peer reviewed within the reports? What has this got to do with the peer reviewed literature more broadly that removes all doubt of the role of CO2 as a greenhouse gas and a vast amount of the uncertainty in what we can expect from doubling CO2 concentrations above pre-industrial limits?

I suspect, not a lot.

Maybe the internal configurations of the IPCC could learn a thing or two from Laframboise’s book, however this doesn’t change the fact that audits of the 4th report found that it was above board (albeit, with a few mistake – such as the heavily inflated “Glaciergate”).

I’m not sure as to why a committed sceptic would make much of her book. To think its status undermines the genuine science of climate change is to be fooled by the Heartland’s despicable billboard campaign. Someone un(der)qualified or undesirable believes climate change is real and due to our actions, thus the science is flawed!

No it isn’t.

Instead, the creator has presented nothing more than guilt by association. I don’t care who is telling me that gravity acts as a constant acceleration, the evidence is compelling. You could have a debate between a serial killer insisting that the human eye is an imperfect result of evolution and the love of my life insisting rather that it’s the perfect example of divine creation and I’m sorry, but as detestable the character is, I’d have to agree with the former on this single point, regardless of their other failings.

Evidence cannot be characterise into or out from a valid conclusion. It’s that simple.

Funny how she should take such a route when, on her own website, she has a page of Smart People Who Beg to Differ (one of which, Fred Singer, was brave and accurate in also begging to differ on the subject of smoking causing cancer and CFC’s role in the depletion of the Ozone layer… oh wait). Admittedly she mentions that these characters are not infallible, but urges us to consider their arguments before making up our minds… If this isn’t a direct contradiction to the book where she seems to avoid the argument completely and instead focus on the author’s value as an expert in the field of climatology, I don’t know what is!

Lastly it’s also noteworthy that Donna has a little chuckle about “consensus”. As McKewon (2012) states, “As neoliberal think tanks are not academic or scientific organisations, their strategy for neutralising the consensus in a number of scientific fields has often involved recruiting contrarian scientists (often not experts in the relevant field) who are willing to undermine the scientific consensus in interviews with the media; this creates the impression of a genuine “scientific debate” while legitimising attacks on authoritative scientific research…”

Of course, time and time again I quote Dr Nurse, “Consensus can be used like a dirty word. Consensus is actually the position of the experts at the time and if it’s working well – it doesn’t always work well – but if it’s working well, they evaluate the evidence. You make your reputation in science by actually overturning that, so there’s a lot of pressure to do it. But if over the years the consensus doesn’t move you have to wonder is the argument, is the evidence against the consensus good enough.”

Another day, the same old spin!

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For more on Donna, check out Donna Laframboise and cloud screaming and the links there in.

Debt / Fuel and the Changing Climate: Pick Which Edge of the Sword

I’m roughly a third of the way through Vaclav Smil’s Why America Is Not a New Rome. It’s an excellent book that clearly articulates how flawed the notion is that the US represents an empire to match that of ancient Rome.

Besides that, Smil got me thinking. In chapter two, Smil discussed the abysmal state of the U.S. economy and;

“[T]he U.S. annual trade deficit has become larger that the annual GDP of Indonesia or Australia, indeed larger than the annual GDP of all but 14 of the world’s nearly 200 nations. And while budget deficits can be cut relatively rapidly by determined administration, in the near to medium term America has no choice but to continue its extraordinarily high dependence on energy imports, for which it cannot pay either by its disappearing manufacturing products or by its food. In 2006 almost exactly one-third (32.3%) of the trade deficit was due to petroleum imports. This reality also has strategic implications; a nation that imports two-thirds of its crude oil is obviously highly vulnerable not only to sudden price spikes but to actual physical storages of the fuel.”

It seems mind-boggling to me, that the country fuelling committed scepticism of climate change is probably the same country that would do best to support initiatives to mitigate long term trends due to further emissions from a purely economic view point (ie. increasing energy security and debt prevention). Unfortunately, the noisy committed sceptics tend to be the same people to whom the term “determined administration” sends shivers down their spine. They are also the same people in favour of strong individualism, best reflected in the supersized American dream, as Smil puts it;

“While America thus advanced abroad, at home its wealth created excessive consumption that spread far beyond the traditional high spenders. Steadily falling savings rates and readily available credit made it possible to supersize the American dream (the common use of the verb supersize was itself notable). By 2005 the average size of all newly built houses reached 220m2 (an area 12% larger than a tennis court), and the mean for custom-built houses surpassed 450m2, equivalent to nearly five average Japanese dwellings. Houses in excess of 600m2 became fairly common, and some megastructures of nouveaux riches covered 3000m2 or more.

“All these homes became crammed with consumer products ranging from miniature electronic gadgets to in-home movie theatres, from sybaritic marble bathrooms to granite-top counters in kitchens some of whose centre islands were larger than entire kitchens in small European apartments. These new palatial villas came to be situated further from city downtowns and were reached by driving ever larger SUVs, vehicles connected neither to sport nor to any rational utility. There is surely no need for more than 1 tonne of steel, aluminium, plastic, rubber and glass to convey one woman  to a shopping centre, but vehicles in common use weigh 2-3 t and in the case of the Hummer, a restyled military assault machine, nearly 4.7 t. Ownership of these improbably sized vehicles became the ostentatious symbol of the decade, whose other marks of excess were ubiquitous gambling and mass addiction to (not uncommonly drug-fuelled) performances of televised baseball or fake wrestling.”

To favour business as usual is to ignorantly assume to be living within one’s means. Limits to Growth isn’t some harebrained notion concocted by a bunch of socialist hippies; it’s the reality that exists in the growth debt that cannot foreseeably be paid off. The only harebrained complaints are the cries for small government, zero regulation and individualism: clearly the individual has a tendency for gluttony paid off on credit.

While it is a myth that the U.S. is anything like ancient Rome and maybe it can avoid collapse, the loan being taken out for the new model Hummer next year is a concerning act of self-denial.

I hope enough individuals globally (as I’m certain a similar reality exists elsewhere, including Australia, where the supersized American dream has rubbed off) wake up from this state not only for the sake of climate change mitigation, but also for the health of their local economies…

Elitism: the Ivory Tower and Mann on a Gold Plated Jet-ski

Musing further on my previous post, I’m drawn back again and again to the term (which I subjected to a footnote) “elitist”.

It’s a term we’re all too aware of; thrown like mud from the committed sceptical community. “Woe! How the elitist scientific community doth rent-seek at the expense of the common person and true scientific endeavour!”

We’ve all heard the claims about elitist scientists sitting loftily in ivory towers, too giddy with their privileged position to be aware of the terrible burden they place on the community that supports them. Of course, all this rhetoric is done without evidence or citation. We are simply expected to believe they pocket grant money and produce dodgy studies to perpetuate additional revenue.

It seems incredible that the global academic community is oblivious to such broadscale behaviour when falsehood of this nature should be fairly easy to detect. Why do we have no equivalent sites to Exxon Secrets to point out Michael Mann’s five sports cars and supersized home (oh, don’t forget that fur coat he’s always strutting in) or similar from the other “elitist” climate researcher?

That’s simple to answer: because it’s a myth.

Again, Tim Minchin’s works ring loud and clear, “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation, so that belief can be preserved.”

It requires a suspension of higher faculties to maintain such an illusion.

Moreover, what does the term,” Elitist”, set on a hair trigger, actually mean?

Here’s some of the terms I found online;

“considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, weather, or position in society: elitist country clubbers who have theirs and don’t care about anybody else.” (from Dictionary.com)

“the belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.” (from the freedictionary.com)

“the belief that a society or system should be led by an elite: local government in the nineteenth century was the very essence of elitism” (from the online Oxford Dictionaries)

“the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with a certain ancestry, intrinsic quality or worth, higher intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.” (from Wikipedia)

Wikipedia go on to summarise it further with;

“The term elitism, or the title elitist, are sometimes used by people who are (or claim to be) not a member of an elite organization. In politics, the terms are often used to describe people as being out of touch with the Average Joe. The implication is that the alleged elitist person or group thinks they are better than everyone else; and, therefore, put themselves before others. It could be seen as a synonym for snob. An elitist is not always seen as truly elite, but only privileged.”

It’s noteworthy that Wikipedia also rightly place Egalitarianism as contrary to Elitism – which is yet another panicked cry from the committed sceptic. “They’re planning to siphon money from the rich west to poor countries…” Go figure.

Basically, elitism is the belief in being better than others and using this belief to justify a desire to govern others. At first, it’s a far cry from the lofty ivory towers, wealth, sports cars and trophy wives that come to mind when one hears in media the nauseating “elitist” lament, yet it does deserve discussion.

It isn’t, after all, a far leap (of faith?) to conclude the suggestive measures to reduce the potential impact of climate change can be taken as being told what to do. However, the facts don’t line up with the delusion.

Have evil climate scientists learnt a trick or two from Palpatine of Star War? Dun dun da!

For instance, there has been committed effort to inform the wider global community of the potential ramifications of modifying concentrations of greenhouse gases longer than I’ve been alive, but trends in CO2 emissions have only increased over this time. Also, I must have overlooked the likes of Michael Mann or James Hansen bid for the presidential seat or papers that conclude that supreme power should be overturned to them until the crisis is over (not unlike Palpatine)… Hardly rich, powerful men are they?

The only way such a scenario makes sense is in the same way various medical bodies suggest a healthy lifestyle (ie. smoke-free, lean diet and exercise) is beneficial to us, which in turn results in various governing bodies utilising such evidence laden suggestions to curb incidence of avoidable tobacco and obesity related illness and death.

Do we hear similar claims over “elitist” doctors and medical bodies telling us what we can and can’t eat, drink and smoke through a manipulation of government? You bet we do, but we rightly identify such people as crackpots. Why should committed climate sceptics deserve anything but similar notoriety?

The only definition for “elite” that I found fitting was; “The best or most skilled members of a group” (from freedictionary.com)

Billy Connolly said it best, “If you wanted to know how to build a ship, you wouldn’t ask a marshmallow maker.”

In a similar fashion, if I had a faulty heart, I’d consult a cardiologist, not my barber. In fact, I’d hope to consult a damn good cardiologist – one with years of experience and an excellent track record – and not just some recent graduate. Likewise I would consult a mechanic about my car over a carpenter or climatologist or a meteorologist about climate change over a geologist, journalist, weatherman or a classic’s major.

Specialisation is an important function of our complex societies. It’s impossible for anyone to be an expert on everything, thus we all formulate our own skills package that allow us to function within a society that benefits from this diversity of skills. Some of us become elite in a narrow field of expertise. That’s how we have rovers undertaking sophisticate surveys on other worlds, keyhole surgery, nanotechnology and whatever else you care to mention from the modern era.

Some scientists in a given field are elite, but not elitist. Some scientists are clearly elitist as well – I could suggest a few who pretend to be experts in fields outside their area of research or others who explicitly state their work is “a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

Relying on a hereditary peer title as authority on matters one has never really studied could also been seen as elitist in that it uses a “belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect [or] social status.”

In truth, the Ivory tower does exist as well as elitists. However, the term has been applied without evidence to individuals whose investigations of the natural world have led them to uncomfortable conclusions. The term has been used by individuals and think tanks who are clearly not sophisticated enough to present a valid case against the standing body of evidence. If anything, I suggest sideshows of this nature only expose the obvious fact that there is no valid case against anthropogenic climate change.

If there was, there are an abundance of committed sceptical outlets, online, in print and on screen as well as significant political paralysis allowing such information to become common knowledge. There is nothing to stop the “final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic climate change”. But for all the hype, slander and puppetry, a valid contrary case remains elusive. I’m fairly confident none will ever be forthcoming (however, I’d be grateful if it was).

Rick Santorum Laments: Smart People Don’t Get the Message of the Committed Sceptic

I have to thank Rick Santorum [h/t to Peter Sinclair] for a little gem. It’s clearly a wasted effort, he laments, in thinking committed scepticism on anthropogenic climate change will eventually rub off on smart people.*

For all the smug talk, the multitude of “final nails in the coffin of ACC”, the ground smashing truths about to be washed over us in the next “Climategate” or IPCC-truth book or pearls of wisdom offered from the illustrious minds of the Plimer, Monckton, Evans, etc, where is the slapped to the face within the realms of academic research? Why is it business-as-usual, for both the hot-headed “sceptics” and the slow, thoughtful progress of reason? Why, if bad ideas crack under pressure, do we see countless accusations, sidesteps and misrepresentations to challenge the same ol’ ACC that seems to remain immune to them?

It surely must require a true leap of faith to ignore not a unbalanced “debate” as I once suggested (“Balanced debate”), but rather such confounding conclusions that must be drawn from answering such questions.

There are contrary scientists, true, but little in the way of compelling counter-arguments provided by them that endure  critical examination by peers. “Conspiracy! Scientists are silencing dissenters!”

Yeah right, free speech is so endangered we don’t have groups like The Westboro Baptist Church and Monckton fails time and time again to berate ad nauseam… oh wait…

I could, of course, go on to the whole host of points raised by committed sceptics, but others have already done this. I could as easily go onto the counter reply (typically conspiracy in nature, from stolen emails proving this and that to the flat out insanity of a secret banker plot dating back to the Middle Ages), but many have also discussed this (or simply bulked at the mind-numbingly desperate detachment from reality). However, I won’t; we both have better things to do with our time.

What remains is that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change trudges on regardless of how much we test it. If anything, we’re now beyond the point of “if” and instead defining “how much” with ever increasing certainty. It is tell that not one of the contrarian arguments persistently leaves the expert scientific body stumped – a point demonstrated most coherently by contrarians themselves through being unable to stick to the one “devastating” argument alone, preferring instead to rely on an ongoing barrage of noise.

Smart people couldn’t be expected to believe such a position or else they couldn’t be called a smart person!

In the wise words of Tim Minchin; “Science adjust it’s views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation, so that belief can be preserved.”

Wisdom is inconsistent with a mind frozen in place. Fabricating an elaborate, yet fictitious, foundation to support a faulty position maybe be clever, but it isn’t smart. Here, I disagree with Santorum in that it is egotistical to be convinced that our activities are able to modify processes in the natural world, but rather in having a strong enough conviction to believe otherwise in the face of compelling evidence.

As Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

The two extraordinary claims on offer are; 1) human activity can effective natural processes, such as climate change, and 2) there is corruption that runs so deep, it covers almost the entire global community of active and relevant researchers, potentially multi-generational, that, for whatever secret agenda (eg. personal gain – if not for them, generations of researchers who follow them; world domination etc), actively undermines free speech and critical investigation of the natural world.

With the wealth of critical scientific literature available to digest and the many broken “final nails” and earth shattering books that, in retrospect, seem to have only produced the faintest ripple, what should Santorum expect of smart people? It’s like being disappointed in people who set off on cruises, certain they won’t fall off the edge of the earth, because they reject an ancient myth for a credible, coherent and consistent body of evidence.

A leap of faith, but definition, demands blind conviction to a belief. It’s reasonable, if so required, that belief in a flat earth could be an essential leap of faith. Likewise, such strong conviction to reject the scientific evidence (arguably without proper investigation and/or adequate understanding) in favour of flimsy factoids that support the latter extraordinary claim seems to be equally fuelled by an underlying belief, otherwise we would have a scientifically strong argument which would allow us all to rejoice in the erroneous conclusions of ACC.

It’s not forthcoming, so neither could the “smart people” to Rick Santorum’s conclusions.

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* In all fairness, he does specify “elite” smart people – but what on earth does that mean? Has he spent much time around working science academics? I think the answer is a definitive “NO”.

Imposing Meaning: The Conflict Between Ideologies Masked as Reasoned Debate

Light in the absence of eyes, illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves, only the meaning the mind imposes on them. Yet, the world endures…

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the animated series Æon Flux. The above is part of a quote that opened episode 5 of season 3, where Trevor Goodchild was having a ‘Hamlet moment’. It has been changed in a more recent release of the series.

It has stuck with me for close to twenty years now. Memorised. Hardwired.

Musing over it today, I see it differently than I did as a teenager. Perhaps less moved, but still as thought provoking.

While meaningful to the state of mind of the character, it is at once an illustration of the human ego and also desperately fatalistic.

Visible light is but a small region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some species, take for instance certain bee species, can see wavelengths outside this range. Perhaps on a much grander scale, infrared plays more influence over the universe…

More importantly, in reflecting the meaning of events, we hit the fatalistic note. It’s the mind that imposes meaning. Well, of course it is.

Meaning is, after all, the way a self-aware entity makes sense of the information it receives about the known universe surrounding it. Meaning is as important to the self-aware entity as is itself. It has to be. One cannot be self-aware without assigning meaning to the information that bombards for it is that information which leads to the persistence of the self-awareness (ie. staying alive).

This is an important note to my recent posts on values and science. The separation of personal values and scientific certainty is clearly an illusion, based on an impersonal (and functionally impractical) philosophy. All information that reaches each one of us must contain both objective and subjective meaning or else it would be rejected as meaningless. This seems a no-brainer, but in practice, we do separate meaning into pigeon holes as though there were functionally different categories, which in practice, there clearly are not.

I’d like to thank the author of Climate and Stuff for the post, Good God! This is realy scary stuff. In the post, the author highlights some of the points of the declaration on global warming from the Cornwall Alliance. While no surprises are to be found, they deserve reflection by anyone interested in the communication of increasing scientific certainty.

Here are a couple worth pointing out;

What we believe

1) We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

What we deny

1) We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

Points 2 – 5 are also worthy of reflection and debate, however as they are hinged on these two points of belief and denial (I thank them for using that word) and are points rebutted elsewhere, at great length, I won’t bother here.

The first thing to note here is that the points quoted are clearly wrong. A casual look into species abundance over the industrial era demonstrates ecosystems are not robust, suited for human flourishing, they are self-evidently fragile to outside impacts, such as human induced degradation. So much so that Rockström et al (2009) places biodiversity loss as significantly more impacted by human activity than climate change, ocean acidity and a host of other variables. Left to their own devices, with ample range and resources, it has been demonstrated that ecosystems can be resilient (Fischer et al 2006), but this remains contradictory to the rest of the statements being made.

The core value being address in this declaration is that the earth and ecosystems are “created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence”. This is the meaning that many minds have imposed on the information they received.

Directly, it has nothing to do with climate change or biodiversity loss, but simply that the world is our divine playground in which we can do no wrong. Thus, errors such as those I’ve pointed out above miss the point of the declaration entirely. To say as much or to point out that “minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry” relates to more than 10 gigatonnes additional CO2 per year and can only be considered “miniscule” if unfairly balanced against Nitrogen and Oxygen (both of which play no role in the greenhouse effect) is translated to, “you are wrong about your core value; that is, your god”.

I am not certain about my reader, but I’m not here to challenge the religious faiths of other people. They can choose to believe any ancient mythology of their choosing. However, I don’t want their beliefs to be shoved onto me. Here is a clear example of faith based values doing just that; through the continuing paralysis on both biodiversity loss and climate change I am party to ideologies that amount to, “she’ll be right – God’s looking after us.”

I find such apparent dependency (assuming there is a god looking after us) infantile and degrading, especially when it is obvious the Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), the Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine) and Rheobatrachus silus (Gastric-brooding frog) among others as well as the difference in ambient conditions between the earth and her satellite all stand as evidence to the contrary.

Hence such musings have not only exposed the core values of people such as those of the Cornwell Alliance, but also my own. At the root, I cannot help but feel I am being asked to relinquish a sense of control – thus meaning – to my life. I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that common-sense tells me is a bad move.

It’s easy to see how quickly such discussions can go astray.

While we may be addressing the science, in reality, we’ve walked into a debate over ideologies; in the meaning the mind imposes on events. How we avoid this, when such groups as the Cornwell Alliance explicitly thread their theology to certain views of the world (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), remains to be seen.

Personally, I won’t hold my breath on a superpower saving us from ourselves. I just can’t do it. History is too full of plague, famine, extinction and hardship that I can’t take solace in a higher force whom, we are told, sides with the victors. Likewise, in weaving their core values to a certain way of seeing the world,* it seems clear that such people are equally unlikely to budge.

So what remains? My suggestion would be to question. “What real world evidence do you have that ecosystems are robust and self-correcting?” or “How does extinction fit into this?” or “Climate has indeed changed over the millennia – but it has been too cold and too hot to support human life in a way that “flourishes” today, what if this occurs again?” for instance.

You would be unlikely to change their minds, true, but maybe, just maybe, the cracks might start forming between the evidence available and the contradictory meaning already imposed. Hopefully, at the very least, the poor marriage between the evidence and certain ideologies may lead groups such as the Cornwell Alliance to unpick the threads they’ve sowed between the two.  Maybe they will find a better match with governance – good stewardship of a wonderful world – as a divine practice over unquestioning dependence.

Who knows? It couldn’t hurt to try.

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*The Cornwell Alliance lists a number of signers with a scientific background. I have to admit, I feel the science teachers of these signers failed them. The most important lesson one should be taught in science is to be plastic with the evidence. We all have pet hypotheses, but all too often they eventually crash and burn. Even Newtonian physics can only go so far – falling to pieces on the very small or very fast scales. For a scientist to sign a declaration stating that the universe is set in one way, perfectly definable today, represents a lapse of understanding, that will look as silly in retrospect as a similar historical document would regarding the flatness of the earth or pivotal (and unchanging) position of the earth in space.

Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming

How hot is the shower?

As one increases the temperature of the water, the answer to this question becomes less and less subjective and more and more objective. Eventually, it becomes conclusively too hot, where cellular damage can be measured.

I mention this because on re-entering the blogosphere lately, I have found the comment threads are still awash with the “CAGW” acronym. Prove to me, they ask, that any warming that is due to human activity could be catastrophic.

Of course it’s a sign of weakness from the committed sceptic and I flag it to my reader in the hope they spot it for what it is and save themselves the effort in confronting the fellow seriously. They are not interested in a genuine reasoned argument. It’s a sideshow; a trump card played by someone needing attention rather than seeking clarity on a subject they indeed are open-minded to.*

I don’t care who mentioned the word “catastrophic” in what publication. Yes, I have been focusing on values of late, but here we have a great example (and warning) of poor communication that just will not die. It has played into the hands of the committed sceptic and has been something I’ve run into continually for the past three years as a blogger.

In truth, you cannot say with any great certainty that any amount of warming will be catastrophic until it becomes too hot. Venus is too hot, but we’re not likely to hit such temperatures until the sun is on the way out.

Would the committed sceptic find the previous ice age to be catastrophic if it reoccurred within a century from now? That was around 5oC cooler that today.

It is entirely up to ones judgement whether or not such a significant shift could be termed “catastrophic”. A half intelligent committed sceptic is aware of this.

Hence you have a stalemate position and a smug smile returned for your attempt at reasoned debate on the subject. It’s likely most of us would find a world 6oC warmer to be “catastrophic” to how and where we live and grow food and to biodiversity richness, but you cannot expect that to be acknowledged by others.

I’ve seen enough projections from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and research currently being completed by researchers within working teams I have been associated with (currently unpublished) to be concerned by as little as 2oC  additional warmth to South Australia, however projections as much as 4oC warming in Greenland might look good. How hot is too hot?

The projections for this coming century are within the realms of a subjective answer to such questions. You cannot hope to question the validity of “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” because the answer remains subjective. They know that. That’s why they hand it to you so easily.

The first suggestion to such a situation may be to ignore it, but this just doesn’t cut it. So what can we do to counter such a subjective question?

In my opinion, make it clear that the committed sceptic has posed a subjective question – they’ve asked you how hot is too hot. It depends on where you are and what you think would be too much stress to local systems. Ask them to dry a line in the sand; tell you what they would think is objectively too hot – what would they see as being “catastrophic”.

Either they’ll offer you something objective (ie. ice caps melted or frequency of extreme weather events) from which you can start to refer to the science literature on the subject or expose themselves to be ‘pissing in the wind’ for attention. That is to say if they refer to a “warmist” statement on what is “catastrophic” or of balmy summer holidays to the UK, they remain in the subjective. Tell them so and move on.

From my experience, such individuals that refer to “CAGW” are typically bombastic and avoid answering questions directly. They will probably cut-and-paste quotes from their favourite “sceptical” website and dart from one accusation to another.

Don’t try to keep up with them, for they are well trained to Gish Gallop and will leave you for dust. Continually press on this initial point and for their personal statement on what is too hot. You’ll probably find that, like a puppy, if you won’t chase them, they’ll grow bored of the game and either attempt a dialogue or (more likely) move on to greener pastures for attention, saving you time and effort.

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*I’m aware that, at this point, it is likely many of the committed sceptic have shut off and are darting towards the comment stream to complain noisily with terms like “warmist”, conspiracy theories and self-righteous claims of awareness in the face of my apparent arrogance or ignorance. I’d hope you can take the time to read the rest of the post and hopefully provide more thoughtful reflection.

The Values of Anthropogenic Climate Change

Today, in the latest publication of Nature, I stumbled upon the article, Climate Science: Time to raft up, by Chris Rapley.

We are naturally good at finding patterns – perhaps too much so – and I found it interesting that I stumbled upon this article just after reading Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape and at a point where I was ready to return to my online writing, but not knowing where to start.

I was drained from my previous efforts in science communication and welcomed all the activities that have, over the previous twelve months, kept me away (or, at best, mere status updates).

I have avoided the arena of climate change debate, for it seems in some ways doomed to the course of the evolution “debate”. So what was I to write about?

Both of the mentioned material are worth reading. However, I have to disagree with aspects of Rapley’s article.

On climate science advocacy, Rapley writes;

“There are dangers. To stray into policy-advocacy or activism is to step beyond the domain of science, and risks undermining legitimacy through the perception — or reality — of a loss of impartiality.

“However, as Sarewitz6 has pointed out, scientists carry authority “in advocating for one particular fact-based interpretation of the world over another”. So acting as a ‘science arbiter’ — explaining the evidence and contesting misinterpretations — is part of the day job.”

However, I feel this has been part of the problem with science communication on climate change and perhaps other topics such as evolution.

Later, Rapley goes on to write;

“The climate-dismissive think tanks and organizations have been effective because they have understood and put into practice the insights of social science. They deliver simple messages that are crafted to agree with specific value sets and world views. Their flow of commentary is persistent, consistent and backed up with material that provides deeper arguments.”

And:

“Regarding the vast body of evidence on which all climate scientists agree, we need to offer a narrative that is persistent, consistent and underpinned by compelling background material.”

But previously, he wrote;

“We need to respond to questions that go beyond facts, such as ‘What does this mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’.”

The article is right in many ways in my view, but Rapley is too tentative and maybe, in light of the previous when compared to the others, contradictory.

In chapter three of The Moral Landscape, Harris talks about belief. Rapley does in fact (under the subheading, Why don’t we get it?) talk about very much the same thing.

Belief, that is, the acceptance of certain evidence to be true, is not so strongly based on rational verification as we would like to think it to be. We’re not calculators after all. Belief derives from shared values that in turn derive from different factors, such as social norms, genes etc. We are far more likely to accept evidence presented when it confirms our already held values / the social norms of our community than those that challenge those values.

Sam Harris, in a presentation on Death and present moment, puts it in no uncertain terms (about 13 mins in);

“When we’re arguing about teaching evolution in the schools, I would argue that we’re really arguing about death. It seems to me the only reason why any religious person cares about evolution, is because if their holy books are wrong about our origins, they are very likely wrong about our destiny after death.”

Evolution thus challenges more than one idea (ie. that we were divinely created in recent millennia in our current form), but rather an entire outlook on life and a total way of living, not simply for the individual, but also the social group with which they associate themselves with. The wealth of evidence supporting the theory of evolution is simply not enough to counter such a wide scope of personally held values which are also attached to what we often mistakenly take as one, individual and isolated premise.

Likewise, I suspect the potential reality of anthropogenic climate change, based on very strong evidence, challenges a much wider scope of values that remain unaffected by rational debate over that one point (ie. whether or not our contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrate affects potential heat storage). We fail to move the “committed sceptics” because the evidence we provide challenged just one point of a wider range of related personal values.

Perhaps, for instance, it challenges the idea that a god is the sole force shaping the world and that we are incapable to such radical modifications (or that an intervening god wouldn’t allow us to harm ourselves in such a way) for certain religious individuals. Perhaps the idea challenges values associated with neo-liberal markets that ought to make us and future generations rich. Perhaps it’s something else.

Rapley was right about the success of climate-dismissive think tanks applying value to their message. He is also correct to argue that we need to go beyond facts and address questions, such as ‘What does it mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’ which are at their core really questions regarding a network of wider social and personal values related to the problem of anthropogenic climate change.

Maybe we need to be clearer which hat we’re wearing – that of scientific investigation or of advocacy – or, as Dana Nuccitelli once mentioned in a comment thread (that, if I can locate, I will link to), we should apply a “Gish gallop” approach, the favourite approach, successfully applied by Christopher Monckton in debate, because, unlike with Monckton, when reviewed, the evidence will support the statements we’ve made.*

I tend to agree with Dana’s idea as it allows more value based discussion intertwined with the evidence. You can say what the evidence supports and swiftly move into its personal and social ramifications. This latter arena does truly need debate.

We have done all that can be done to explain the science of climate change and there are many excellent reference sites to which people can venture if they so decide. What we need to talk about are the value question as it is the answers to these that will define who we will become and how our society will look and function.

It’s understandable that people would be uncomfortable with such unknowns. We need to be part of a community with shared values to feel content. In the “debate” over climate change, we hear predictions of how the future might look and how foolish “deniers” are for not understanding science proven over a 150 years ago.

This isn’t only counter-productive, it also dehumanises the issue completely. The global climate has changed many times before without human influence or consequence. This time it is personal. We need to make our  debates and communications just as personal if we are to do the best we can for future generations.

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* To further explain the point made by Dana, by Gish gallop, Dana suggests that instead of focusing on the evidence, do as Monckton does and just fire through the evidence points and get on instead with the value enriched story, which links to the evidence first briefly mentioned. Unlike Monckton, if reviewed, no errors would be found in the points made if one is presented the evidence honestly.

It isn’t an approach favoured in scientific debate, obviously, but it is effective in public debate – science communicators seem to miss this point entirely.